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'Nano-keys' bind cell receptors and trigger allergic reactions

The tumblers of life continue to click as Cornell University researchers have fabricated a set of "nano-keys" on the molecular scale to interact with receptors on cell membranes and trigger larger-scale responses within cells -- such as the release of histamines in an allergic response.

How cell membranes control cellular function has long been studied but with ambiguous results. However, nanotechnology now gives researchers new tools to understand the role of cell membranes in activating responses within cells.

Barbara Baird, Cornell professor of chemistry and chemical biology, reported this research today (Feb.16) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is the director of Cornell's Nanobiotechnology Center, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

One day, Baird said, scientists might use these insights to develop new drug therapies for allergies and other immune responses, high cholesterol and perhaps viral infections.

By understanding a membrane's role in cell function, she explained that these nano-keys could interfere with responses via the membrane interactions, rather than just targeting proteins to block responses. This could lead to designing ligands (molecules that bind to receptors) that trigger a desired response or inhibit an allergic reaction and preventing the release of histamines and other inflammatory mediators.

In her presentation, "Design and Fabrication of Stimuli to Reveal Spatial Regulation of Cellular Signaling," she explained, "We want to understand how the receptors on cell surfaces mediate cellular responses, how cells work on a molecular level."

To study how receptors on cell membranes jump-start cellular responses, Baird and her colleagues chose to work with mast cells. They were chosen because mast cells secrete chemicals and histamines (substances released in allergic reactions that cause runny nose, watery eyes and other character
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Source:Cornell University News Service


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